If you read the previous article on Hokkien 101, you’d know that I grew up speaking Hokkien.
What I didn’t add, however, is that my parents and grandparents spoke both Hokkien and Cantonese fluently, though I only managed to pick up 1 dialect.
I’ve always wanted to pick up Cantonese though but I can never seem to properly grasp the dialect’s tones and pronunciation.
But today, I’m going to try my best to convey the basic Cantonese words and phrases that I’ve managed to learn from my helpful colleagues and family.
The flow will be the same as the Hokkien 101 article, so it’ll be easier for comparison. Now, let’s dive in!
1. Oy and Mm-Oy
Oy, means “want” and Mm-Oy means “don’t want”.
The lack of consonants in Oy bothers me a little bit.
So in future, if the waitress in Yum Cha pushes you the dim sum cart for Phoenix Claws, just say “Mm-Oy“.
It took me a while to not completely butcher this term into “Oy-Moy”.
Oy-Mm-Oy is the Cantonese equivalent of “Ai Mai”.
Example: “We’re planning a trip to Hong Kong in November and we have one more slot in our AirBNB. Oy-Mm-Oy?”
3. Chut Hoi
Chut Hoi, sometimes also known as Chut Gai, means “going out” or “heading out”.
Chut Hooi directly translates into “leaving home” and Chut Gai translates into “Going onto the street”. Either way, both mean that you’re not home.
Example: “Where are you going? Everyday Chut Gai, then leave me at home with your father. I don’t know raise children for what.”
4. Saek Fong
Saek Fong, like Jiak Hong, also literally translates into “eating air”.
It means “to travel” or “holidaying”.
Example: “Eh your trip to Macau next month is for work or you going Saek Fong?”
5. Fan Ohk
Fan Ohk (read: fun oak), means “to go home”.
Example: “I’m going to fan ohk. You guys go ahead and karaoke without me.”
6. Lok Yu
Lok Yu is the equivalent of “Lor Hor”.
So if you hear anyone saying that it “Lok Yu“, better grab your umbrella.
7. Saek And Saek Fan
Saek means to eat, though Saek Fan is more commonly used.
Saek Fan translates to “eat rice”.
Example: “Guys, let’s go Saek Fan leh. 1.30pm already. I’m hungry.”
8. Fan Gao
Fan Gao means “sleep” or “sleeping”.
Example: “I’m gonna go home to Fan Gao. I’m super tired.”
9. Lei Hou Ma
This isn’t Lei Hou’s mother.
This is the Cantonese version of “Ho Seh Bo?” or “How are you?”
Example: “Hello auntie, Lei Hou Ma?”
10. Tak and Mm-Tak
Tak (read: tuck), means can. While Mm-Tak means cannot.
A: “Ma, can I go out with my friends?”
B: “Mm-Tak! You never finish your homework, you don’t go out.”
A: “Can I borrow your pen?”
B: “Tak. Would you like the blue or black one?”
Tak-Mm-Tak, the combination of the previous 2 words, basically translates into “can or not?”
Example: “Eh I borrow your laptop, Tak-Mm-Tak? I need to check something.”
12. Fai Di
Fai Di means to “hurry up”.
Example: “Fai Di lah! We’re going to be late at this rate.”
13. Dor Tseh
Dor Tseh is the ever-useful “thank you”.
Always remember your “please” and “thank you”.
So there you have it, Cantonese words and phrases that aren’t names of Dim Sum dishes. Cantonese is a polite and refined dialect, unlike the seeming brash tones of Hokkien.
Once again, dialects are important because they’re part of the Chinese heritage. Don’t let it die out.
(Header Image Source: DK Math Stats)